Creators are always wanted in manufacturing, and those who bring new perspectives due to their neurological differences can be some of the most valuable.
That was one key takeaway from the Diversity + Inclusion Summit held this month by the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education partner). Dr. Keivan Stassun, director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University, discussed the benefits of hiring neurodiverse workers, sharing tips on optimizing the hiring process for these workers as well as setting them up for success.
Why it matters: As manufacturers look for more workers to fill their hundreds of thousands of open positions, they are considering people of many different backgrounds and talents.
- Neurodiverse workers, who may include those with autism, Down syndrome, ADHD or other neurological conditions, have a wide range of abilities and perspectives and can enrich manufacturers’ operations.
- Stassun spoke from personal experience: at the Frist Center research lab, autistic individuals working with the proper support created a data visualization software that has been licensed by NASA, and also patented a technology for mining asteroids.
The benefits: “There are two broad categories of strengths that neurodiverse talent brings to the table—visual cognitive abilities and process/efficiency improvement,” said Stassun.
- Visual cognitive abilities can include skills such as pattern recognition and outlier detection, which can be useful in quality assurance tasks as varied as inspecting batteries coming off an assembly line, surveilling financial records for fraudulent or improper activity or stocking crash carts in emergency rooms.
- Process/efficiency improvement abilities emerge from neurodiverse workers’ atypical or novel perspectives, which help them identify outside-the-box solutions. As Stassun explained, “Neurodiverse individuals can look at a process and abstract it into a flow chart to find ways to increase efficiencies that no one else would have even thought of.”
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